Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 01, 2012
Ultimate Collector

Richard "Lord British" Garriott's latest game is called Ultimate Collector, and it is on Facebook, published by Zynga. I can see the next EA-Zynga lawsuit coming, because while he doesn't use the term "Ultima", using "Richard Garriott's Ultimate Something" is probably not going to please the Ultima trademark holders. Ultimate Collector is in beta, and as I was curious what a Zynga game would look like if it was designed by an actual game designer, I went and checked it out.

Ultimate Collector at first looks a bit like The Sims, giving you a house to decorate and and avatar to live in. But the core of the game is a very different one: Buying and selling collectibles. Thus you visit garage sales, stores, and events like conventions to find collectibles. Then you identify their traits, pointing out the negative traits to lower the price, while seeing what the object is really worth from the positive traits. And finally you either display the collectibles in a show case, or sell them in a garage sale of your own at a profit.

While gameplay-wise Ultimate Collector is a step up from the usual Zynga fare, the real genius here is what appears to be a new business model: The collectibles in the game are real items. And some of them either display advertising for the company selling them, or even a direct web link to sites like Amazon where you can buy those items for real. There even is a virtual Macy's in the game, and I bet Macy's had to pay something for that. For the average player the business model is also more favorable than that of other Zynga games, because it relies more on micropayments for small advantages than on targeting "whales" with extremely expensive stuff. And you can play the game relatively well even without payments or spamming your friends.

While other companies have experimented with in-game advertising, I have never seen it as well integrated in a game as with Ultimate Collector. And I bet that if you buy an item from Amazon following a link from the game, Zynga is getting a cut. As a game Ultimate Collector might be just average, but as a new way to make money on Facebook it is brilliant.

The gameplay of "ultimate Collector" sounds like a very close match for what was one of my main leisure activities before I discovered Everquest back in 1999. Most of my weekends for years were taken up with driving to pretty (or not so pretty) small towns, wandering around whatever sights they had to offer and ferreting about in any junk or charity shop that presented itself. If I spotted a car boot or jumble sale on the way there then so much the better.

Consequently my house filled up with all kinds of weird bits and pieces, obscure albums, forgotten novels, kitsch souvenirs from the past. It was fun but when I found MMOs I was very happy to carry the practice into virtuality, visiting gnomish cities or barbarian fishing villages instead of market towns, paying for my treasures in imaginary gold or blood and storing them in vault that took up no space in my house at all.

I agree that Lord British may just be on to something here, but if so it's something that, for me at least, MMOs already improved almost out of recognition years ago.
I know your "Zynga game by an actual designer" was a bit of a throw away, but it should be noted that the lead designer at Zynga, Brian Reynolds, was one of the principal developers of some very fine games: Civ II, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, and Rise of Nations.
Since his turn to the dark side, he created Frontierville at Zynga.
Unlike most bloggers I don't dismiss Zynga games without having played them. I did play Farmville, Frontierville, Cityville, The Ville, Mafia Wars, and many others. I'm still regularly playing Castleville and now Ultimate Collector.

And sorry, it isn't evident that Frontierville had a good game designer behind it. Especially not one with a Sid Meier connection. If Sid Meier defines a good game as being one of interesting decisions, Frontierville and most other Zynga games fall short, often offering little or no decision-making at all. There is a strong trend in these games that you are told you need something, and there is only one way to get that thing, which involves a trivial combination of clicking on things and waiting.
Whom do you barter with?
I mean pointing out flaws to lower the price could be done versus a npc but I don't think that would be a challenge at all.
On the other hand if you have to barter with real humans, some people will amass loads of good things through social engineering.
How do they handle that?
Not sure how this is handled internally, but I think you are just bartering with NPCs. You *can* visit your friends and buy stuff at their place, but I'm not sure if the item you buy is the same they are selling, and at the same price.
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